Excess nitrogen in the environment is a big problem. The most visible aspect of the problem is the spread of toxic algae blooms in oceans, lakes and other bodies of water. But there are other effects as well such as unwanted alterations to ecosystems.
There’s ample evidence over the past decade or so that Americans are gradually changing their diets, driven by health concerns among other factors. But there’s one change that really stands out. According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans have sliced their beef consumption by 19% between 2005 and 2014.
Batteries have never been more important. Not only do we all depend on cell phones, tablets and laptop computers that run on batteries, but two enormous industries are in major transitions that rely upon battery technology: personal transportation and the utility industry. The electricity grid is increasingly turning to solar and wind power for generation and both will require effective energy storage if they are to truly become the predominant sources of electricity.
The X Prize Foundation provides financial incentives for innovative solutions to various technical challenges. Topics have ranged from developing spacecraft to trying to create a real-world version of the Star Trek tricorder. Last year, the foundation launched a $20 million challenge to come up with technologies by the year 2020 that turn carbon dioxide captured from the smokestacks of power plants into useful products.
We have talked about the growing problem of toxic algal blooms on a number of occasions. The increasing occurrence of these blooms has been associated with rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels as well as the presence of wastewater nutrients and agricultural fertilizers in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The most notable incident occurred in the summer of 2014, when algae contamination in Lake Erie left 400,000 residents in Ohio and Michigan without water for 72 hours.
In the Northeast, many are enjoying the last of autumn’s bounty. When we grow fruits and vegetables, we can choose to forgo pesticides, GMOs, or industrial fertilizer. When we shop at farmer’s markets, we support family farms and help maintain open space that we all enjoy.
Since its inception, sustainability has been human-centric. It came into vogue in 1987, with the publication of a UN report called Our Common Future, which defined sustainable development as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”